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Powerful tornado rips through Yancheng city, eastern China, leaving 51 dead

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A powerful tornado accompanied by heavy rainfall and hailstones hit northern Jiangsu, eastern China at 06:30 UTC on Thursday, June 23, 2016, destroying houses, overturning cars and flattening power lines. As of 12:30 UTC, there were 51 reported deaths.

This made the death toll from extreme weather in this province climb to 78, the ministry of civil affairs said and added that nearly 500 people were injured. 200 of them critically.

In a press release, Yancheng City government, said downpours, hailstorm and a tornado battered parts of the city (population 7.1 million) at 14:30 CST (06:30 UTC), destroying many houses. As of 20:30 CST (12:30 UTC), 51 deaths were reported.

Extreme weather was also reported in several townships in Funing and Sheyang counties in the suburbs of Yancheng. Gales of 125 km/h (77 mph) battered several outer townships of Funing County, while in Sheyang, the winds reached 100 km/h (62 mph), CRI English reports.

Video credit: CCTV

Witnesses said they saw huge trees falling and whole villages were leveled. Victims were dragged from the ruins of their homes and rushed to the hospital.

"I heard the gales and ran upstairs to shut the windows," said Xie Litian, 62, from Donggou township of Funing County. "I had hardly reached the top of the stairs when I heard a boom and saw the entire wall with the windows on it torn away." As he ran downstairs, the roof collapsed. "I crouched in a corner of the ground floor for at least 20 minutes, afraid to move."

When the gales subsided, and Xie escaped, all the other houses in the neighborhood were gone. "It was like the end of the world. I saw utility poles uprooted, tractors blown away. I was drowned in my own sorrow until I heard moans for help from a neighbor buried in the debris of her home."

Hundreds of rescuers had been sent to Yancheng to sort through the wreckage. 

Tornadoes are relatively common in Jiangsu, with more than 1 000 recorded over the past six decades but today's tornado in Yancheng was particularly violent, and the authorities are still trying to make sense of the high death toll, NYT said.

Nearly half of the injured were in serious condition, the Chinese Ministry of Civil Affairs said late Thursday.

Featured image: Tornado damage in northern Jiangsu, eastern China – June 23, 2016. Credit: CCTV

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